Mystery of broken clouds on Venus

(ORDO NEWS) — “It’s called a Venusian cloud break,” says Morrone, who is part of an international network of amateur astronomers who track the huge structure. “I used a 14″ Celestron to see the gap twice in 20 minutes.”

The Venus cloud gap is a relatively new discovery, photographed by Japan‘s Akatsuki orbiter in 2016 and first noticed by JAXA scientist Javier Peralta.

The huge structure vertically crosses the equator of Venus, stretching almost 8000 km from end to end, and revolves around the planet at a speed of over 200 miles per hour, making one circle every ~5 Earth days.

Researchers following this discovery soon stumbled upon another surprise. This was also visible in old photographs of Venus.

“Cloud breaking is a recurring phenomenon that has gone undetected since at least 1983,” they wrote in a May 2020 Geophysical Research Letter.

How can you not notice something so big? Visually, the cloud break is hidden under the opaque cloud tops of Venus.

To see it, you must use an infrared filter, which allows you to see the heat seeping in from below. Indeed, this is how hobbyists track this anomaly: “I used a Baader SLOAN 820-920nm NIR filter,” notes Morrone.

Mystery of broken clouds on Venus 2
Waves behind the cloud break on April 15, 2016

Researchers are still not sure what constitutes a “cloud gap”. “This atmospheric tear is a new meteorological phenomenon not seen on other planets.

Because of this, it is difficult to give a confident physical interpretation,” says Peralta. Numerical simulations suggest that this may be some kind of exotic non-linear Kelvin wave; but so far scientists have not yet decided.

Whatever it is, the structure could help solve a long-standing mystery: Why does Venus’ atmosphere spin so much faster than the planet itself?

The hot, deadly air on Venus rotates nearly 60 times faster than its surface, an effect known as “superrotation”.

Cloud breaks on Venus can contribute to the rotation by transferring angular momentum from the deep atmosphere into the clouds.

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